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Airbnb now offers exorbitantly expensive home rentals as part of new luxury push

Airbnb is expanding its rental options today to include some of the priciest and most luxurious accommodations on the planet. The new tier, called Airbnb Luxe, is designed for customers interested in spending more than $1,000 a night on thoughtfully designed, massive private homes with scenic views and top-of-the-line amenities.

“Airbnb Luxe is built on the deep expertise in luxury travel Airbnb gained from its acquisition of Luxury Retreats in 2017. This new tier launches with more than 2,000 handpicked homes around the world, each one passing strict evaluation across 300-plus criteria to meet standards in both design and function,” reads the company’s blog post on the announcement. Airbnb says the homes must have “elevated design standards,” including incorporating the use of “premium materials & finishes and rare & unique features.” The homes will also need to have “chef-grade appliances” and plentiful bathrooms to satisfy every bedroom.

Luxe is part of Airbnb’s broader transformation into a full-service hotel and travel platform, a far cry from its couch-surfing beginnings as part of the out-of-style sharing economy that gave birth to ride-hailing services and scores of other untested startup ideas. Airbnb will still let you rent a tiny bedroom in someone’s home pretty much anywhere on Earth. But it wants to have a full range of offerings to compete with websites like Expedia and hotel and travel agencies worldwide. It now owns last-minute hotel booking site HotelTonight, and last year it brought bed-and-breakfasts and boutique hotels onto the platform as part of its Airbnb Plus tier, which introduced hotel-like standardization for higher-end listings.

Of course, luxury home rentals is a market that’s existed for decades, and it’s heating up with competition from traditional hotel companies like Marriott and Four Seasons, both of which want a slice of the short-term rental market. So why spend this kind of cash on an Airbnb rental, instead of just the nicest hotel you can find? Well, Airbnb thinks it can do better:

Each Airbnb Luxe booking provides 24/7 access to a dedicated, highly trained trip designer who will ensure the stay is tailored to the traveler’s unique needs every step of the way. This includes ensuring effortless booking and check-in, coordinating local bespoke experiences and activities, and arranging a wide range of services from childcare, to private chefs to in-house massage therapists – or, for the dedicated, personal training sessions in your own private gym.

The shift toward travel agency-style service is part of a shift the company embarked on starting back in 2016, with the launch of Airbnb Trips, which let contractors sign up to offer everything from tour guides to cooking classes on Airbnb’s platform. For Luxe, however, the company seems to be going quite a few steps further and hiring full-blown personal assistants to design every facet of the trip and ensure it has a luxury feel. That should perhaps make price tags in the thousands to tens of thousands more palatable, if you’ve got that type of money laying around.

And that’s a point worth stressing. This is not for everyday consumers. Airbnb says that it’s seen a 60 percent increase in bookings for rentals that are more than $1,000 a night last year, but we don’t know if that’s a 60 percent increase on 100 bookings or 1,000 or 10,000. There’s no telling how big this market is specifically for Airbnb, but make no mistake — this is for rich people.

That’s not a bad thing for Airbnb’s business, of course. It bought Luxury Retreats for a reason, and this a smart play for the company to take advantage of an untapped market occupied mainly by boutique travel agencies and service providers only accessible to wealthy individuals who know the right people. Now, with Airbnb Luxe, anyone (or any group of people) willing to pay the money can get access to a villa in Tuscany, a mansion in Costa Rica, or a chalet in the Swiss Alps.

The good news is that, with enough friends or family onboard to split the cost, it may not be as expensive as it looks at first blush. You can’t say the same about a hotel.

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